BEIRUT – Scores of fighters loyal to the Syrian government were killed by United States-led airstrikes in eastern Syria after they launched an attack on a Syrian Kurdish militia headquarters where US Army advisors were based, officials said on Thursday.
Syrian state news announced the losses in the pro-regime ranks, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, tallied an unofficial death toll at around 45 following the aerial bombardment late Wednesday which struck positions on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River in Deir ez-Zour, the Syrian government’s current line of contact with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces Kurdish militias.
In a statement, the US-led Combined Joint Task Force described the attack on the SDF HQ as “unprovoked” and confirmed that US Army personnel had been present at the at the SDF base in an “advise, assist and accompany capacity.”
“In defense of Coalition and partner forces, the Coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression,” the statement added.
US Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the international coalition against the Islamic State terror organization in Syria, added in a statement that Russian forces, which back President Bashar al-Assad’s government troops and allies in the Syrian war, were advised before, during and after the night-time airstrike operation.
Government-allied forces and the US-backed Kurdish fighters were both engaged in the fight against the IS in the zone, but occasional skirmishes have been recorded previously between the two factions.
Deir ez-Zour was occupied by the IS in 2014, but the militants were eventually flushed out after a three-year siege of the city spear-headed by the Syrian government and its allies from the south, aided by Russian airstrikes.
The SDF launched a simultaneous advance south through the countryside north of Deir-ez-Zour, fighting the IS with the backing of the international coalition, which resulted in an eventual line of contact between the Kurdish militias and the Syrian troops once the extremist militants were ousted from the region.